Sharing more burden than turkey and gravy this holiday season.
By HUNTER RICHARDS
Watching friends rush from their classes to make it on time for their flights home on Tuesday can be stressful for many students who aren’t able to travel during school breaks like their peers. The cost of a ticket home for many may be much more than they make in a month of work study, to which they are already limited.
It can be isolating to stay on campus for school holidays. If you have no nearby friends to go home with for Thanksgiving dinner or don’t know any others staying on campus, it’s easy to feel alone. For these students, I can only say I hope you’ve found a community during this break that leaves you feeling accepted. As a freshman, finding someone who you trust enough to travel to their homes and feel comfortable opening up to about a potentially sensitive topic within the first couple of months upon reaching campus is the least of your immediate concerns.
Even for those students unable to go home for the break that have been invited to a friend’s nearby house, this can often feel uncomfortable as a freshman. Although you know your new friends fairly well on-campus, as soon as you step outside of Cambridge you’re likely to realize you don’t know all that much about who they were before college and what exactly is awaiting you back at their home.
Students in these situations often have their own insecurities about how their backgrounds might compare to their peers on campus. No matter how many Harvard classes I’ve sat through or academic papers I’ve reviewed or advanced design presentations I’ve given, I don’t foresee a time that I won’t have anxiety about saying the wrong thing and reveal that I’m from a rural, low-income, Midwestern area, only to become a long-running joke through dinner.
As a sophomore, I was incredibly lucky to go home to upstate New York with a close friend whose parents are some of the kindest individuals I’ve ever met. Spending a weekend catching up on rest and relaxing in my friend’s hometown that felt vaguely familiar to my own home was exactly what I needed sophomore year. Unfortunately, the one thing I couldn’t ever manage to recreate no matter how hard I tried or how many people who have fostered me on holidays that I stayed on campus, was that feeling of hugging my mom again after a hard semester.
Being a low-income, first generation student at Harvard puts more than just physical distance between my family and me. There is also a large gap in the understanding of what life is like for the other any more. My family’s inability to relate to my experiences in college has led to the phone calls home coming less and less frequent, until the point that I realize I’m not able to easily dial my mom from the long list of recent calls I have piled up anymore. It didn’t take long to realize I couldn’t call home and expect to quickly complain about a TF offhandedly because my family didn’t understand what a teaching fellow did, or why I had class on the weekend, or why I had meetings with my professor after dinner hours regularly. I could barely explain that I didn’t need a car on campus, let alone that I had a dining hall, classrooms, a library, a gym, and multiple kitchens right within my own dorm.
It’s hard to go home during breaks from school to find that everything you remembered is different. It’s frustrating to struggle to make conversation with the people you grew up with. You dread explaining to your family what the next few years is going to look like for you (especially when you’re not even sure of that yourself yet). I don’t want to say that staying on campus was better for me, but it did keep me focused. Every time I came back to campus from home, I immediately wanted to turn around again. It was because I was so homesick that I couldn’t handle going home as often anymore.
I miss Michigan often, but I also know that surviving, let alone succeeding, at Harvard has required putting more than just the 800 miles of distance between myself and home.
Hunter Richards (firstname.lastname@example.org) wishes all the best for low-income, first gens still looking for their place between Harvard and home.